Articles of Confederation

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Drafting Articles of Confederation
First issued in York, Penn., 1977

The Articles of Confederation was the first constitution of the United States of America, describing the purpose and function of the federal government. The Articles were drafted by a committee appointed by the Second Continental Congress in June 1776, and the final draft was approved November 15, 1777 and sent to the states for ratification, a process that completed in March 1781. During this time, however, the Articles were the de facto system of government in use. Once ratified by all thirteen states, on March 1, 1781, Congress became the Congress of the Confederation.

The Articles established rules for the operation of the federal government, giving it the power to make war, engage in diplomacy, and handle issues in the western territories. Under the Articles, the states retained all powers not granted to the national government.

The representatives in the Second Continental Congress felt a need for a confederacy that would secure the independence of the United States while in the midst of the American War of Independence. However, Nationalists argued that the Articles were inadequate because they did not grant the federal government a taxing power, nor did they create executive or judicial powers. The Nationalists prevailed in the writing of the United States Constitution in 1787, and succeeded in gaining its ratification by 1788.


Before the Articles of Confederation went into effect, the delegations of all states were required to sign it. The delegates and the dates on which their state signed are below:

State Date signed Signers
New Hampshire July 9, 1778 Josiah Bartlett, John Wentworth Jr.
Massachusetts Bay John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Francis Dana, James Lovell, Samuel Holten
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations William Ellery, Henry Marchant, John Collins
Connecticut Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, Oliver Wolcott, Titus Hosmer, Andrew Adams
New York James Duane, Francis Lewis, William Duer, Gouverneur Morris
Pennsylvania Robert Morris, Daniel Roberdeau, Jonathan Bayard Smith, William Clingan, Joseph Reed
Virginia Richard Henry Lee, John Banister, Thomas Adams, John Harvie, Francis Lightfoot Lee
South Carolina Henry Laurens, William Henry Drayton, John Mathews, Richard Hutson, Thomas Heyward Jr.
North Carolina July 21, 1778 John Penn, Cornelius Harnett, John Williams
Georgia July 24, 1778 John Walton, Edward Telfair, Edward Langworthy
New Jersey November 26, 1778 John Witherspoon, Nathaniel Scudder
Delaware February 12, 1779 Thomas McKean, John Dickinson, Nicholas Van Dyke
Maryland March 1, 1781 John Hanson, Daniel Carroll